Clarification of reports regarding discolouration of the uMvoti River

26 November 2014



Clarification of reports regarding discolouration of the uMvoti River

Following newspaper reports regarding the discolouration of the uMvoti River and certain allegations Bev Sukhdeo, General Manager of the Sappi Stanger mill responds as follows: “There have not been any untoward excursions or exceedances by the mill with regards to its effluent, so contrary to what has been reported: we can state unequivocally that there has not been any toxic “spill of effluent” from the Sappi Stanger mill into the uMvoti River.


The Sappi Stanger mill discharges treated effluent into the Ntshaweni River as per the mill’s Water Use Licence, issued by the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS). The Ntshaweni River then joins the uMvoti River further downstream. Sappi Stanger’s environmental management staff monitor the condition of the river on a continuous basis in accordance with its licensing conditions to ensure that the mill keeps within its licensing limits. 


During the winter period, the flow in the uMvoti River drops significantly. Under these low flow conditions, the river bed is visible and when observed, can be seen as dark in nature. Rainfall measured since the beginning of spring has revealed significantly lower results as compared to previous spring seasons resulting in continued low flow conditions in the uMvoti River.  The odour and appearance of the river are unfortunately negative aesthetic side-effects of the low-flow conditions; however, other factors have played a role in exacerbating this condition.


The mill is in the process of installing Fine Bubble Diffuser Technology to try and improve the impact of its effluent into the river. The implementation of this technology shows positive results on waste water treatment operations, citing reduced odour from the processes as well as reduced chemical oxygen demand in the effluent.


In order to allow for the installation of the fine bubble diffusers, an existing unit in the lagoon had to be relocated. During the relocation phase and the commissioning phase, the mill had anticipated a slight increase in odour and a slight decrease in effluent quality and notified the Department of Water Affairs accordingly.  The estimated completed date for the project is December 2014.  To date the mill has not experienced such impacts as a result of the project.


The mill effluent quality has however been adversely impacted by municipal power outages on several occasions. Since 21 September 2013, the mill has experienced approximately 25 power outages, of which 15 were experienced since the beginning of the 2014 winter period to middle spring.


“The Sappi Stanger mil has a serious commitment not only to the people we employ, but also to the communities within which we operate and who rely on our sustainable preservation as a manufacturer in the region.  We acknowledge that we do have an environmental footprint, but remain committed to managing and mitigating the environmental impacts of our operations and as part of this we strive to proactively meet the environmental commitments embodied in our Sustainability Charter.”  This includes meeting targets to (amongst other things):


  • Use less water per ton of product produced while improving effluent quality
  • Reduce solid waste per ton of product produced
  • Conform to responsible environmental practice and legislation.


Since 2003 the mill has initiated several water conservation projects aimed at reducing, reusing or recycling water and waste water at a cost of in excess of R7million, effectively conserving 2,882 litres of water per minute in the process.  In addition, several effluent improvement initiatives undertaken at the Sappi Stanger Mill over this period at a cost of more than R84million have also greatly contributed to the overall environmental efficiency of the mill.


Sappi was also instrumental in creating the KwaDukuza Environmental Working Group where all role-players in the community come together to discuss the state of the river. It is clear that other businesses and land use, as well as municipal actions play a great role in determining the overall health of the river before the water reaches Sappi.


In addition to this and in an ongoing effort to manage and monitor its effects on the river, the mill also continues to engage with Dr. Gordon ‘O Brien, a professional natural scientist, of the Institute of Natural Resources for Biomonitoring Assessments of the uMvoti River. Dr. ‘O Brien has assisted the mill with these assessments since 2004. A low flow assessment was conducted in August 2014, with a high flow assessment planned for early December 2014.


“As a responsible manufacturer the Sappi Stanger mill strives to achieve the highest effective standards of environmental performance so that while making products that support society’s needs, we always strive to balance our needs with our impact on the earth.  The community can be assured of our determined efforts to meet these objectives in the most responsible and fully compliant manner possible”, said Sukhdeo.






For further information

Zelda Schwalbach
Regional Communications Manager
Sappi Southern Africa
Tel +27 (0)31 279 6203
Mobile +27 (0)83 652 8528